Nasir Jones is obviously no longer the observant and thoughtful young rhymer of 1994s Illmatic; nor is he really still the post-divorce 30something of 2012s Life Is Good, his most recent truly great long player. But that's not to the emcee's detriment; maturation is something that is suddenly welcomed in Hip-Hop, as a legion of high-profile rhymers are entering middle age while still maintaining tremendous cache with Millennials who have more firsthand attachment to them than their venerated Golden Age forbears.
On King's Disease, Nas' latest, he relishes his status as an elder statesman. 2018s NASIR was hamstrung by Kanye West's penchant for overblown spectacle -- namely the overhyped G.O.O.D. Music rollout that surrounded it. But this time around, Nas sounds more like Nas, and it's largely thanks to executive producer Hit-Boy, who is a better sonic fit for Mr. Jones than 'Ye's gaudier approach.
The term "King's Disease" is an antiquated reference to gout, and as Nas puts it, "you can get it from just doin' too much." On the title track, the Queensbridge legend announces his return in grand fashion. On the thumping "Blue Benz," Nasir takes listeners back to The Tunnel and ruminates on materialism and violence in the streets, while championing the fact that he's moved up in the world and being honest about all that that means, good and bad.
Everybody's favorite R&B uncle Charlie Wilson shows up on "Car #85." The nostalgic track is probably the weakest here, which is somewhat surprising, considering how reliable Charlie-Last-Name-Wilson can be when he's paired with a rap legend. The already-released track "Ultra Black" features Nas in full embrace of Blackness, while throwing out a sly Doja Cat diss for that rapper's supposed embrace of white supremacist chat rooms (one of the summer's favorite controversies.)
"27 Summers" and "Replace Me" kick-start the album's strongest sequence. The former is a percolating track that name-drops everyone from Robert DeNiro to Johnny Nunez and celebrates the trajectory of his career; and the latter features Big Sean joining in for a romantic track about relationships with Don Toliver on the hook.
Lil Durk shines on "Til The War Is Won," an anthemic examination that references everything from Black Lives Matter to single motherhood. And it's Anderson.Paak lending the assist on the piano-driven "All Bad," as he and Nas share stories of relationships gone wrong.
Nas does what he does best on "The Definition" with Brucie B, examining the current political climate and social issues. And there's a welcome reunion of The Firm with the laid-back "Full Circle," complete with a Dr. Dre cameo. "10 Points" is the most minimalist track here; another opportunity for the rapper to take a pensive look at the word "King," a recurring theme on the album.
"The Cure" is a continuation of the previous track, this time a salute to the women and family who are partners for Black men. Album closer "Spicy" features Fivio Foreign and A$AP Rocky pushing things to soaring heights, as Nas blacks out over the album's most flossy beat. It closes things on a glasses-high note. After all of the commentary, it's a welcome bit of levity.
The list of collaborators is impressive, but Nas always sounds best when he's not straining to appease outside forces. Unfortunately, that strain is a common theme throughout his career. Nonetheless, King's Disease is mostly successful, a welcome return to form for one of Hip-Hop's most celebrated (if somewhat inconsistent) artists.